No quarterback has been sacked more than Ryan Tannehill this season, and he's played one game fewer than most of his peers. How have the protection issues stunted his development, if at all, in his second pro season?
Nogle: I actually think it's partially the other way around - Tannehill is being sacked because of his development. I know that's backwards, and it's not completely true, but there is some basis for it. Last season, Tannehill was locking on to one receiver, and if that was not there, he would either take off running or throw the ball away. This year, he has shown a great ability to make reads, work through his progressions, and deliver the ball to the right receiver. The problem is, he will continue to wait until he finds the right receiver or someone gets open - which leads to some of the sacks.
Yes, the offensive line has issues, but it's not all on them. Tannehill holds the ball too long sometimes, and has not run as much as he probably could or should. Developing as a pocket passer seems to have hurt that part of his game. So far, we have not seen the happy feet/panic you would normally expect from someone getting sacked as often as he is, but it might not be that far off, either.
I've seen Dolphins observers flat-out complain about the way Miami is using Mike Wallace this season. Can you elaborate on how the Dolphins use Wallace, and why he's mostly struggled to produce in his first season in Miami?
Nogle: When the Dolphins come to the offensive line, look on the far right of the line of scrimmage. Yep, there's Wallace. And, that's where he will be. Every time. And, that's where the frustration begins. The coaches are not being creative with Wallace, moving him around and creating mismatches with him. He's a decoy more often than anything else. In the second game of the season, the Dolphins moved Wallace around, gave him all kinds of different routes to run, and he responded with nine receptions, a career high. But, they went right back to putting him on the far right and leaving him there after that.
We all understand that a big part of signing Wallace was giving the Dolphins an offensive weapon that takes the top off the defense and opens up other receivers. But, we would also like to see Wallace actually get the ball sometimes as well. Rather than just having the threat of a deep pass, let's actually see the deep pass.
Of course, that also assumes Wallace will catch a ball that hits him in the hands - something that's not a guarantee right now.
Cameron Wake missed the Saints game in Week 4, and was quiet upon his return in Week 5. Should we assume that he'll be back to (or near) his normal self in Week 7?
Nogle: He may as well have missed the Ravens game in Week 5 as well. He started the game, but only played the first three snaps before sitting out the rest of the game. This week, however, it does appear Wake is near 100% at least. After being injured against the Falcons in Week 3 and missing most of that game, Wake has essentially had a month to rehab his sprained MCL, minus the three snaps against the Ravens. All indications are that he is ready to go, so I would say it is safe to assume Wake will be Pro Bowl Wake this week.
From afar, it's looking like the Dolphins' free agent splurge on defense has worked out pretty well so far. How have Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler and Brent Grimes changed Miami's defense for the better?
Nogle: Grimes is the biggest of the three signings thus far, and he is the least discussed of them. He's absolutely playing to the level that got him a Pro Bowl nod in 2010. Quarterbacks are simply staying away from him. It's put more pressure on the rest of the secondary, but, other than the debacle in New Orleans, the Dolphins have not been bad against the pass. Grimes absolutely was a steal in free agency.
Ellerbe and Wheeler are up and down, mostly as they deal with minor injuries - although Ellerbe's current shoulder injury is at least semi-serious. They are the two leading tacklers for the Dolphins this year, and they are making an impact on the defense. They are faster than Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby, who they are replacing, and are doing alright overall. Pro Football Focus has both of them with a negative overall grade this year, but that's mostly thanks to the Saints game, when everything went wrong for the Dolphins.
Overall, and including most of the offensive free agents, the Dolphins spending spree has been successful. There's still more work to do, but there's at least a foundation to build upon at this point.
You're now 21 games into the Joe Philbin era, with a 10-11 record to show for it. How are Dolphins fans feeling about the direction of the program under his leadership?
Nogle: Great question, and not an easy one to answer. I think most fans see the progress the team has made, and realize the team is working toward something. But, at the same time, there is definitely frustration with what is seen as stubbornness on the part of Philbin and all the coaches. Take the offensive line and its struggles for instance. Fans would have liked to see some sort of shakeup of the front five during the bye week, yet the same five starters lined up together in the first practice after the off week. Philbin insists that the problems are not the players, but scheme and execution. Fans see it as stubbornness.
There's also a lack of transparency that, for some reason, some fans feel they should be getting. Philbin is a master of talking and saying nothing. And, if he doesn't want to talk about something, he will straight up tell you. So, we end up with fans who hang on every word the coach says, then get upset that he didn't say what they think he should have said. Philbin has never thrown a player or coach under the bus, choosing to say he supports a decision or the person in public, then addressing it in private. That frustrates fans, because they don't see that private portion of the situation.
I think fans are happy, in general, with Philbin, but frustrated with specific parts of what we have seen. Winning cures that, though.